Kapadia shot to fame when his film, The Sheep Thief, and bagged the Cine Foundation’s second prize for short films at the Cannes Film Festival. His first feature film, The Warrior, starring Irrfan Khan, won him his first BAFTA, while Amy bagged the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2015. Diego Maradona premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and the acclaimed director was in India to promote the film that was released by PVR Pictures. His latest project on the football legend continues the theme of separating the person from their public persona to delve into the crevices of their private lives and the battles they had to fight to attain and maintain success.
You could have made a biopic on Maradona. Why did you choose to make a documentary?
Yeah, but who the hell looks like him or plays like him?! People who can act, can’t play football. Someone made a film on racing car drivers. To me, it looked like a rip off of Senna. Someone is going to make a film on Amy or a series on Maradona but in the end, it’s just a bunch of people pretending to be them. I’d much rather watch the real person. I don’t want any actor pretending to be Muhammad Ali. Muhammad Ali is the best Muhammad Ali. No one ever sang like him or danced like him or fought like him or did the things he did. With Senna, I don’t want someone pretending to be a racing driver. Senna did it for real and he is beautiful, intelligent and eloquent. Somewhere along the way, something happened to me and I slightly fell out of love with the fakeness of movies. I fell in love with the imperfections and honesty in non-fiction and documentaries. I enjoy making them because, in the end, that is the real Maradona or the real Amy or real Senna. And the idea that it becomes more worthy by someone pretending to be Maradona is, at best, stupid, I think. Sports is amazing. It is real and not scripted, and the minute you script it, you lose the reality, the charm and spontaneity of it, because it is very difficult to replicate. When you try to script it, there are many things that play on your mind like: Can we get sponsorship for the audience shots? Or, why is the audience not reacting correctly?
Has Maradona seen the film?
No, he hasn’t. I went all the way to Argentina to show it to him, but he still hasn’t. I have to check Instagram every now and then because the film is now showing in Argentina on a particular channel, it’s shown on HBO in America and Direct TV in Latin America. People have already begun talking about it, so, at one point he will watch it and we will get to know about it because he will end up posting something.
Are you worried that he might not like it?
I hope he likes it. I’m not expecting him to love every moment — you will understand why I say that once you watch the film. The aim is to challenge things and pose questions. In general, if you step back and see, it is a very sympathetic film but it is honest. Not everything he did was great and he made some bad calls, so there’s some of that there. I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that his opinion isn’t the only opinion… You make movies for an audience around the world and people around the world have responded really well. Everyone who knows him and has seen the film has said it is great. The words they used were “great”, “tough but honest”.
When you make a documentary, does it worry you when you have to show the not-so-good side of the subject’s personality?
If they don’t watch it (laughs), it is not scary at all. It is fine, actually. If Maradona doesn’t watch it, it is fine. Everyone around him — his ex-wife, his girlfriend, his biographer, his trainer, his teammates — they’ve all seen it and they say it is great and accurate.
When you begin a documentary, how do you decide where to start and how to tell the story?
The big thing is, I don’t start with a plan. The thing is, when you are a director, it is said that you should have all the answers and if you don’t, you are rubbish at your job. But I would say, the more you do it, the more experience you get, the more you can say I don’t know, but I’ll get there, I’ll work it out, and be confident enough to say I don’t know. When I start these films, I have a character and generally, I know what the end is — even if you don’t know about Senna, you know he died. Amy sang songs but she was a mess, She used to drink a lot. Maradona was a footballer, he did a handball, he became really big, So you really sum up the characters in a few words. So, my interest is the same… You do know the end, which is very different from a fiction film. In fiction, you would never give away the ending and say ‘now I’m going to tell you a story’.
What was that one thing that you learnt about Maradona that shocked you?
The most interesting thing is that he has a reputation of being this macho, tough guy, crazy and controversial, but there is this softness, this loneliness… There’s vulnerability in his eyes and on his face and how afraid he is at times. That was a revelation for me. When you see the film, you will see he looks scared and that is not something you associate with Diego Maradona. He realizes it’s very hard to be the latter person in the world of stardom and fame and football.
Do you think, it will be difficult to make a fiction film now, for you, after making so many successful documentaries?
Maybe it will be difficult, but it’s nice to do something difficult and different. I have always made fiction between documentaries, so I haven’t left it entirely, but it is a different process. That is fun and part of the challenge. The issue is: can I make a fiction film the way I’ve made a documentary? I’ve always made my documentaries as fiction films, so I want to see if I can play in the space between documentary and fiction but close to fiction.
You were the one who introduced Irrfan Khan to an international audience with The Warrior. Any plans of teaming up with him again?
I’d love to work with him. I saw him recently, we’ve been talking. It will be great if we can work together again. In a way I can do it now as I have finished my film and delivered it, I’m thinking of shooting a film here again. Irrfan and I have spoken about it a lot but we just haven’t been in sync till now.
Have you been able to catch up on any films from India?
I’m really out of the loop recently, I vote for various awards so I’m forced to watch certain films but I haven’t seen films from here in a while. When I’m editing, the last thing I want to do when I reach home is watch a film
You directed two episodes of Mind Hunter season 1. How did that come about?
It’s one crazy story. I know the writer of the show — Joe Penhall — he’s Brit, a playwright and lives in London. David Fincher (director and executive producer of the show) heard about me because one day, his best friend came to his house and asked him to watch a film. The movie was Senna, and the best friend was Brad Pitt. Brad is a big fan of Senna. Fincher told me this while we are making pizzas. His another friend, Steven Soderbergh, was a big Amy Winehouse fan, so somehow Amy and Senna were responsible in me meeting Fincher. When I read the script, I realised they didn’t want anything gory, it was just people talking. It was interesting because the way I made Amy was take a sound recorder and talk to people and interview them, trying to unravel a death. So the process of making Amy was very similar to the characters of the show. Fincher was great, he gave me a chance.